Howard Marks, aka Mr. Nice. Image credits: Alchimia 20.
One British Cannabis activist is considered a cannabis legend around the world.
Howard Marks was a Welsh cannabis smuggler and activist who many know for his large-scale cannabis smuggling operations in the 1970s and 80s. During the height of his career, many knew him as the most wanted man in Great Britain. Because of his connections throughout the world and his long list of aliases, Wales Online. referred to him as “one of the most sophisticated drug barons of all time.”
But he didn’t start off this way. What started as small cannabis dealings soon turned into a cannabis empire that spread from Europe to the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) later convicted Marks in 1988 for drug trafficking. Consequently, officials sentenced him to 25 years in prison. But, officials released him in 1995 for good behavior, according to AP News.
How Marks Became Europe’s Biggest Cannabis Smuggler
When Marks first started selling cannabis, he only sold it to close friends or acquaintances while he was a student at Oxford University from 1964-67. Shortly after this, in 1970, Graham Plinston, a UK drug lord, convinced Marks to help him traffic cannabis. Marks then met Mohammad Durrani, a Pakistani cannabis trafficker. Durrani offered him the chance to sell cannabis on a large scale in London, according to Wales Online.
Soon after, Marks’ cannabis dealing became an empire. Before he knew it, he was smuggling cannabis all over Europe and was Europe’s most successful cannabis smuggler, according to cannabis news magazine Get Buds Legalize. He then smuggled weed from all around the world into several countries beyond Europe, such as Colombia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
According to Sensi Seeds, Marks’ biggest shipment was 30 tons (about 66,138 pounds) of cannabis, worth about $100 million, which he smuggled from Thailand to Canada.
One of Marks’ most impressive cannabis crimes was between 1975 and 1978 when he successfully smuggled 55,000 pounds of cannabis through the John F. Kennedy airport in New York City, reports The Guardian.
Marks was first arrested in 1973 in the Netherlands, but he skipped bail and spent the next few years on the run, according to Sensi Seeds.
In order to run his empire, he operated under several aliases. At the peak of his career, Marks had 43 alter egos, 89 telephone lines, and 25 companies in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia, according to the Hash Marihuana and Hemp Museum. His most famous nickname, Mr. Nice, came from the passport he bought from a convicted murderer, Donald Nice.
Much of Marks’ success as a cannabis smuggler is due to his connections in the cannabis world. From the mid-70s to 1980, Marks was said to be involved with groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the British Secret Intelligence (MI6), the Palestinian Liberation Movement, and the Italian mafia. According to Wales Online, in 1979, Marks received 50 tonnes (more than 110,000 pounds) of cannabis from the Trafficante crime family, an Italian-American mafia crime family based in Tampa, Florida. The 50 tonnes of cannabis was enough to supply the entire British market for a whole year.
In 1973, Marks began exporting cannabis to the U.S. and started working with The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an organization of psychedelic and cannabis users and dealers based in Orange County, California. Law enforcement officials often referred to the group as the Hippie Mafia.
To this day, many still consider Marks one of the greatest cannabis dealers of all time. The DEA even referred to Marks as the “Marco Polo of Dope World.”
“I was a fugitive for six and a half years and I smuggled as much cannabis as I could,” Marks shared with The Guardian.
He added, “I felt that this was my destiny, this was my karma. I suppose I felt like a prizefighter. One day one’s going to get knocked out on the canvas. You have to carry on until you’re beaten.”
After his time in prison, Marks became a cultural icon, reports BBC News. For example, he regularly did comedy shows where he made light of his time in prison and told stories about his cannabis empire. Marks also published an autobiography, Howard Marks’ Book of Dope Stories, where he goes into further detail about his drug escapades, according to Sensi Seeds.
Marks also later became an activist for cannabis legalization. He even ran for parliament in the UK in the 1997 election on a single-issue ticket for reforming cannabis laws, reports BBC News. His bid was unsuccessful.
“I made a promise that as soon as I was released from prison I would do everything I possibly could to legalise -re-legalise- marijuana,” Marks explained in an interview with Huck magazine. “That’s all it was in my head.”
“Of course the legalising of marijuana for medical purposes is to be welcomed,” Marks shared with The Guardian in January 2015 after he was diagnosed with cancer. “But personally I never wanted to have to wait until I had cancer before I could legally smoke.”
“I want it to be legalised for consuming recreationally,” he continued. “I’m pleased to see they have now done this in four U.S. states. After my experiences at the hands of the U.S. legal system, America is the last place that I thought would be leading the charge.”
Mr. Nice’s Legacy
After he served seven years in prison due to good behavior, Marks published his autobiography, Mr. Nice, in 1996. The book went on to become a bestseller, and a movie based on the book, Mr. Nice, was released in 2010.
Marks’ influence in cannabis is still prominent, as Sensi Seeds even named an Indica strain named after him, called “Mr. Nice Guy.”
In 2015, doctors diagnosed Marks with inoperable bowel cancer, yet he remained positive until the end, as in an interview with The Guardian, he shared, “it’s impossible to regret any part of my life when I feel happy and I am happy now, so I don’t have any regrets and I have not had any for a very long time.”